Meet our newest Distinguished Dietitian: Diana Dyer, MS, RD.
Learn more about Diana and her work below.
RD Since: 1978
Area(s) of Practice:
My career as an RD has spanned the health care spectrum, i.e., starting at the far end of the spectrum in which there is a focus on using nutritional science and nutrients to treat disease, first with my MS research for which I studied the blood selenium and glutathione peroxidase levels in children with phenylketonuria (PKU) both on- and off-diet, which lead to the addition of selenium to the highly specialized liquid formulas consumed by children born with PKU.
After obtaining my RD in 1978, I was hired as one of the earliest renal dietitians in such a specialized position, quickly segueing to becoming an early ASPEN member and dietitian with a specialty in critical care nutrition, using nutrients to heal and promote health at that far extreme end of providing health care.
However, after my second breast cancer diagnosis in 1995 (my first was in 1984, plus I am also a childhood cancer survivor of neuroblastoma), I could no longer ignore an inner voice, which was telling me I should be doing something to help the cancer survivorship community.
So, making a long story short here, while taking a very deep breath, without a clear vision, and without a business plan, I left critical care, which had been the long focus of my career. I resigned from a position I loved at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in Ann Arbor, setting up a private practice focused on providing reliable information about food, nutrition, and lifestyles for cancer survivors to optimize their odds for both extension of life and improved quality of life. (Note: It was at this point in my career that I finally became active in several dietetic practice groups within AND, which was and continues to be the BEST career decision and investment that I have made. I highly recommend becoming active, not just being a member, in DPG’s early in your career, not waiting as long as I did.)
During the next ~20 years, I immersed myself into the growing cancer survivorship community with the simple goal of helping others have a less difficult cancer recovery journey than my own have been.
In addition to my private practice, I wrote and self-published my book A Dietitian’s Cancer Story (it has been reprinted 13 times, selling nearly 100,000 copies), established the Diana Dyer Endowment at The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) to which I donate proceeds from my book sales to help AICR fund research focused on nutritional strategies to improve cancer survivorship, launched my website in 1997 (one of the first websites on the internet by an individual RD) to provide reliable cancer and nutrition information to the public during the early days of the internet, even before ADA (now AND), AICR, the American Cancer Society, or the National Cancer Institute had websites up. I wrote a quarterly Email newsletter, maintained current information on my website, and developed 3 blogs In a nutshell, I was busy.
However, after 15+ years of criss-crossing the country for countless speaking engagements, media interviews, and consulting on various aspects of nutrition and cancer survivorship, I continued to watch the cancer population increase (>1.6 million new diagnoses in 2014). I eventually saw that my next effort as an RD needed to move even further along the health care spectrum, from using my knowledge about nutrients and skills as an RD to impact various aspects of disease treatment and recovery to instead somehow re-focus my efforts on healthy food and healthy environments for both cancer prevention and the prevention of chronic disease in general.
Thus again, making a long story short here, my husband and I have finally come back to an old dream, a dream of being farmers growing healthy food for our community, a dream that needed to be put on hold, even lost, for several decades. Why? Being a childhood cancer survivor with multiple late-emerging and on-going health concerns resulting from my initial cancer therapies, including several subsequent cancer diagnoses, I knew that I needed to have (i.e. find and keep) health care benefits that were both comprehensive and affordable (which were found in the corporate world, not available to the farmer world prior to the Affordable Care Act) or risk both bankrupting my family and dying early from inadequate health care.
Therefore we are both excited and honored to have (at last!) finally established our farm in 2009, The Dyer Family Organic Farm, a small specialty farm growing 40+ varieties of garlic near Ann Arbor, Michigan, where our farm’s mission statement is “Shaping our future from the ground up”. People often ask me if I still work as a dietitian (yes!) or if I have retired from being a dietitian (no!). I give the latter group a quick smile thinking to myself, “Retirement? What’s that?”, while telling them, “Nothing could be farther from the truth!”
In fact, I am busier now than ever as an RD, because the need (and benefits) for disease prevention through better food and healthier environments is both so clear and so urgent. As a dietitian-farmer, my roles are the following:
1. Along with all other small organic farmers, I am a true front-line health care provider by growing healthy food used to feed my own community,
2. I am a healthy food and cooking educator as my husband and I “talk garlic” anywhere and everywhere through-out our community (at our market tables, farm tours, in schools, community groups, university student clubs, on my blogs, on our farm website and Facebook page, etc), and
3. Most proudly, I have one of two organic farms co-owned by RDs that currently accept dietetic students and dietetic interns (the future of our profession) to provide true hands-on experiences through the School to Farm Program developed in 2010 by the Hunger & Environmental Nutrition DPG of AND that demonstrate real-time, real-life efforts, challenges and successes, to develop secure and sustainable community-based food systems.
Both my husband and I care deeply about the health of our community. Both of us had long portions of our professional careers within the health care field that were focused on delivering treatment for disease. However, having seen the difficulties, relative ineffectiveness, and high costs associated with focusing only on disease treatment, we now both feel an urgent responsibility to prevent disease, preserve and protect our environment and natural resources, plus create a healthy and thriving community by growing healthy food and educating our future citizens, eaters, and leaders toward a truly sustainable future.
Our farm gives us the means to do all of the above, and I am proud to both represent and expand the dietetics profession in this way.
As an afterthought, it is of interest to reflect on the role that cancer has played throughout my life’s choices, limitations, directions, purposes, and where I am today. I didn’t mention above that I was not initially accepted into the dietetic internship at the University of Wisconsin Hospitals when I applied in 1975. I was not accepted because I was a childhood cancer survivor. Yes, read that sentence again.
Today it is illegal to discriminate against cancer survivors in that way, due to a specific component of the American Disabilities Act. However, in 1975, a committee member made the decision (without consulting me, my previous employment or academic references, or even anyone from my medical team) that I was “a high risk”, that I might not be able to do the work or finish the program. Again, to make a long story short, I got in, I got in that year, and I finished the program. Telling a childhood cancer survivor “no” is an open “invitation” to finding “yes”, at least with me. 🙂
However, if I had not finally been accepted into the internship, if my husband and I had started our farm back in the 70’s without health care benefits, I am sure that I would not be writing these comments today. I certainly would not be where I am today, on the far other extreme of the health care profession where the starting point is not “we are what we eat” but instead is moved back several steps to “we are what we grow”, where I am working with my hands in the soil, growing the food that I am feeding my own community (believe me when I say this is all far more complex, thought-provoking, and fun than writing out TPN orders!). In addition, I certainly would not have the platform I have today, as an RD-Organic Farmer, to speak up, speak out, to lead by example, to let my life speak.
So I suspect that means I am where I am supposed to be, that the Universe used cancer to bring me here, where I am needed, as my husband and I work on our farm “to shape our future from the ground up”, where the word “our” is intentionally very large. As members of my profession, you are members of our extended family at The Dyer Family Organic Farm, and you welcome to join us shape our future!
Websites and social media:
- Hunger & Environmental Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group
- National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition
- Healthy Land, Healthy Food, Healthy Eaters, Sustainable Food Systems: Opportunities for Dietitians, A. Tagtow and A. Harmon
- AND Practice Paper: Promoting Ecological Sustainability within the Food System (March 2013)
- 2010 State of the Evidence: The Connection Between Breast Cancer and the Environment
- The President’s Cancer Panel Report 2010 Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk: What We Can Do Now (note section on agriculture, food, and water).
- A Generation in Jeopardy: How pesticides are undermining our children’s health and intelligence – Pesticide Action Network of North America, October 2012
Brief professional bio:
- BS – Biological Sciences, Minor – Chemistry at Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana
- MS – Nutritional Sciences-Dietetic Internship at The University of Wisconsin and University Hospitals, Madison, Wisconsin
- Have been active within the following DPGs since 1997: Oncology Nutrition (current member), Vegetarian Nutrition, Dietitians in Functional Medicine, Nutrition Entrepreneurs, Hunger & Environmental Nutrition (current member)
- 2011 – “TD10” – 10 Dietitians “Making a Difference” by Today’s Dietitian Magazine
- 2010 – Excellence in Hunger & Environmental Nutrition Award – HEN DPG
- 2010 – Margaret L. King Memorial Lecture Award – Southeast Michigan Dietetic Association
- 2005 – Distinguished Practice Award, Oncology Nutrition DPG
- 2002 – Karen L. Wright Memorial Lecture Award – Alabama Dietetic Association
- 2000 – Dietitian of the Year – The Michigan Dietetic Association
- 1998 – Individual Public Relations Award – The Michigan Dietetic Association
What does ‘professional integrity’ mean to you?
As I try to find words to convey my concept of “professional integrity”, I first think of words written by my colleague and friend Angie Tagtow, MS, RD, which capture my touchstone for my professional practice as an RD:
“Healthy soil grows healthy food,
which nourishes healthy people
who create healthy communities.”
Thus I measure all the food and nutrition recommendations coming out of my mouth (or my pen, or my keystrokes) against the growing and production methods that created that food, asking myself if those practices (i.e., the backstory behind the food) are creating healthy soil and clean water, healthy food, healthy people, and healthy communities.
The first dictionary definition for the word integrity relates to being honest and having strong moral principles. I certainly agree with that. However, I prefer to elaborate on the second dictionary definition, which is of more interest to me because it is often overlooked (or more likely that its application is not understood) by dietetic professionals: the state of being whole and undivided.
Considering “the state of being whole and undivided” leads me back to the word “communities” , the last word within my touchstone, the basis for my professional practice with integrity.
My two earliest inspirations for understanding the importance of the word community, i.e., the larger community including biological ecosystems, and how human actions can positively or negatively impact the health of this larger community, were from reading Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and Aldo Leopold’s essay “The Land Ethic” within his book A Sand County Almanac.
“So delicately interwoven are the relationships that when we disturb one thread of the community fabric we alter it all — perhaps almost imperceptibly, perhaps so drastically that destruction follows.”
– Rachel Carson
“All ethics so far evolved rest upon a single premise: that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts. The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants and animals, or collectively the land.”
– Aldo Leopold
As a human being, as a citizen on this planet, I am a member of the larger fabric of my community. I am connected to all other members, and we are interdependent. Therefore my actions matter. My actions help create a healthy land and healthy communities, or they do not. There is no neutral here.
As a dietetics professional, I have an additional responsibility, to act with professional integrity by making food recommendations that protect, promote, and nourish the health of “the land”, i.e., the health of my entire community (starting with the health of the soil underneath my feet on my own farm) plus the health of all communities, i.e., to protect, promote, and nourish “the state of being whole and undivided”. To do anything less does not promote or have integrity.
What words of encouragement do you have for RDs-to-be looking to make a significant contribution to our profession?
Dietetics is a wide-open field. There are no limits. Find your passion and create your own purpose. Elevate how your workplace or your community views and values the expertise and input from an RD.
I am guided and sustained by two quotations:
“Your calling is found where your deepest joy and the world’s deepest need meet.”
~ Melinda Hemmelgarn, MS, RD at the 2012 MOSES Organic Farming Conference (paraphrasing theologian Frederich Buechner)
“No one could make a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.” – Edmund Burke (1729 – 1797)
Don’t wait for permission. Don’t take “no” for the final answer. Don’t think you need to do something “big”. Find your calling, your joys, even fun!, and then jump in to take the lead with your ideas and your passions for nourishing the future health of our profession, our communities, and our common planet.
Again, we extend our congratulations to Diana and thank her for her important work and for representing the RD credential in such a positive light.